Bakersfield Condors Head Coach Gerry Fleming gave good insight into his team and several Oilers prospects when he spoke with Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now following the season. It was a tumultuous year for the Condors as they experienced several call-ups due to injuries with the big club. They also dealt with injuries of their own. There were development gains in several young prospects. Here are five observations from the Oilers prospect pool in 2015-16, not just in Bakersfield.
1. SIMPSON SURPRISES
Dillon Simpson not only enjoyed a successful second pro season, he drew some of the best praise from Gerry Fleming.
“Dillon Simpson, I thought overall, was probably our most consistent d-man all year long,” said the Condors bench boss. “I don’t know where to begin. There’s so many improvements in his game that have happened not only this year but last year as well. He doesn’t make many mistakes. He’s low maintenance, he’s a good leader and he assumed that responsibility this year. I think more time for Dillon and hopefully he gets some games up and down next year to see where he’s at. He was great for us all year long.”
Simpson was taken in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Draft. He signed his Entry Level Contract in April of 2014 and played his first professional season in Oklahoma City. With the change to Bakersfield this past year, Simpson found his stride. The defenceman accumulated 20 points (4-16-20) in a 57-game injury-shortened season.
Fleming liked what he saw from the former University of North Dakota captain and son of former Oiler Craig Simpson.
2. PAIGIN'S PRODUCTION
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When the Oilers made their seventh-round selection in 2015, 209th overall, they took a big defenceman from Russia, and if you don’t follow the KHL closely, he likely flew under your radar.
Ziyat Paigin, a 6-foot-6, 200-pound blueliner, put up some very nice numbers for Sochi this season. He recorded 27 points (9-18-27) in 37 games, good for the most among his team’s defencemen.
Paigin was named to the 2016 KHL All-Star Game. Size, a heavy shot and long reach are reportedly among his strengths and 2015-16 was a breakout season for the Oilers prospect.
3. KHAIRA FINDS OFFENCE
Oilers fans will be more familiar with Jujhar Khaira, as the big forward spent 15 games with Edmonton this season, his first taste of NHL action. In his second professional season, Khaira showed a lot of growth in his game from year one.
Khaira showed a commitment to getting quicker in the off-season heading into 2015-16 and it helped him earn time in the NHL. Khaira has a lot to like physically, as a 6-foot-3, 215-pound forward. The Oilers were pleased with his physicality during his call-up, but commented on him needing to develop more confidence in his game.
Khaira did develop more of an offensive touch playing higher up in the Condors lineup this season. After just 10 points for Oklahoma City in 2014-15, Khaira recorded 27 including 10 goals in 2015-16. The physicality was still there for him as well, as he finished the season with 69 penalty minutes and nine fights with the Condors.
It was a nice season to build off for the 2012 third-round pick.
4. BEAR'S BIG YEAR
Ethan Bear has enjoyed quite the season for the WHL Western Conference Champion Seattle Thunderbirds. That season is still underway as Bear has 15 points in 13 playoff games so far. He just recorded two goals and an assist in a big win over Kelowna to clinch the conference championship.
Bear finished third on the Thunderbirds in scoring this regular season with 65 points (19-46-65) in 69 games. Playing in all situations for Seattle has allowed Bear to enjoy a very successful season after being taken 124th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Bear was named a WHL Western Conference First Team All-Star.
5. SLEPYSHEV'S ACCLIMATION
Anton Slepyshev was one of the Oilers most talked about prospects coming out of training camp prior to the 2015-16 season. He made the club following an impressive camp and pre-season.
The Russian winger, taken in the third round of the 2013 NHL Draft, played 11 games for the Oilers. He finished the season in Bakersfield and it did take time for him to adjust to his first North American season.
Slepyshev finished his AHL campaign with 13 goals and eight assists for 21 points in 49 games for the Condors. It wasn’t really until February or March that he really adjusted to the AHL and started to become a more consistent source of offence for Bakersfield. He had 16 of his 21 points from February on, including seven points in 10 games in March.
It takes time for players to come to North America and adjust to the coaching and their surroundings. The Condors, and Oilers, expect more offensive impact from him in 2016-17.
“I think Slepy got better as the year went on and I think you’ll see more offence from him next year,” said Fleming. “It’s always tough when you don’t understand the language, different culture, the game is a little bit different here with just the size of the ice and the way the philosophies are. It took him a little while to adapt to that but I think there were signs toward the end of the year that he does have that club in his bag and he’s got a good skill-set. He’s big, he just needed time to get comfortable.”